Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in his recent article entitled “History, unchanging Truth, and Vatican II” at the Catholic World Report, takes on a difficult task in attempting to relate together the absolute truth of Christian revelation and its transmission through the medium of changeable and historically-conditioned human expressions (i.e. doctrinal formulations within a certain social and historical context). Dr. Ed puts his finger on the right target by situating the veracity of the 2nd Vatican Council, at least partly, on whether we can maintain the enduring validity of the doctrinal content of the Church’s past doctrinal formulations while at the same time acknowledging the changeability in their contextualized framing.
Dr. Ed approaches this question by looking into the historical context of the 2nd Vatican Council itself, and deducing that the Councils own “framework of interpretation”, or “its own approach to the question of truth and history”, is to be understood in the messages of the nouveaux théologiens – Yves Congar and Henri De Lubac. These two men, made Cardinals by St. john Paul II, were appropriated by that very Pope as well as his successor, Benedict XVI, as providing the authentic key to a hermeneutic of continuity, or “a creative retrieval of the authoritative sources, of reform and renewal in continuity with the Church’s living Tradition.”
Harkening back to the Councils’ own caller, Pope St. John XXIII, Dr. Ed cites from John’s “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia”, who is said to be inclined towards the solutions profferd by the nouveaux théologiens:
“What is needed is that this certain and unchangeable doctrine….presented in the way demanded by our times. For the deposit of faith…. [is] one thing, while the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [“eodem sensu eademque sententia”], is another thing.”
Consequently, Dr. Ed deduces from this that “linguistic formulations or expressions of truth can vary in our attempt to deepen our understanding, as long as they maintain the same meaning and mediate the same judgment of truth.”
With this key of interpretation described, Dr. Ed goes on to articulate the problem with the Neo-Traditionalists and the Neo-Modernists. The former have absolutized continuity of dogma without any recognition of the variable-ness in the linguistic formulations that have attended to those dogmas throughout the historically-conditioned past, while the latter believes that by the variable-ness of linguistic formulations there is necessarily a changeability in the “dogmas” that said formulations attended.
Furthermore, a note is made on the contention of the Congar’s and the De Lubac’s of the early 20th century world, namely, that the Modernists, while being flat out wrong in the final conclusion they arrive at in the bottom of the spiral staircase into dogmatic eradication, had accurately identified an important question, after all. That question, again, pertains to the matter of the harmony between the Church’s inability to teach anything not continuous with the original Apostolic Deposit and the variable-ness of doctrinal formulations, which themselves can be subject to “correction, modification, and complementary restatement”.
In the neo-Modernists, there is both the recognition that the historically-conditioned and contextualized expressions of truth are never absolute and that, consequently, this variability “of expression implies inexpressibility of divine truth”, and so the neo-Modernists “reduces truth to its changing historical and linguistic expressions.” This new posture, or hermeneutic, is the weapon of those who employ the “Paradigm Shift” or “Pastorality of Doctrine”, such as Christoph Theobald, SJ, as well as even Cardinal Blase Cupich expressed in his lecture at the Von Hügel Institute in St. Edmund College, Cambridge. It was also voiced by a close associate of Pope Francis, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin.
Comparing this mentality to that which is working in this years Synod on the Youth, Dr. Ed describes it as expressing “merely an instrumentalist view of doctrine, in which doctrines are not absolute truths, or objectively true affirmations; in fact, doctrines don’t make assertions about objective reality at all.” As a result, there is a forfeit between faith and its ability to be expressed in statements.
In sum, Dr. Ed sees the neo-Modernists as out of sync with the phronema of the very best minds that went into the making of the 2nd Vatican Council, not least John XXIII. The solution, therefore, is to re-appropriate the hermentuetic of continuity as illumined by Congar, DeLubac, St. John Paul II, and yes, Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus, which, in turn, is simply a re-appropriation of the Lerinian gloss on doctrinal development (same meaning, same judgement), as a way to avoid doctrinal relativism and re-situate ourselves in the realm of doctrinal unchangeability.
If my above review of this article is correct, I have two things to say in response. First, I agree with his description of the intention of the nouveaux théologiens to maintain continuity with the past, especially by a resourrcement of the sources of revelation’s data in the Church Fathers, the Holy Scriptures, and the Sensus Fidelium, etc,etc. I will hold off on commenting on whether that intention was always successfully met in the respective theologies of the men of the Reform. Secondly, I want to say that the perspective of those employing the “New Paradigm”, which, let’s face it, is the hermeneutic of Pope Francis, has not been adequately represented. Here’s why. While I agree that the older Modernists were concluding doctrinal relativsm (per se), it is not the modus operandi of the Cupich’s, the Bergoglio’s, the Parolin’s, the James Martin’s, or the Marx’s of our present world. Rather, they have altered their strategy to avoid falling prey to such an easy intellectual slaughter. No, rather than affirming relativity to dogma, they forcefully assert it! Rather than saying the Church’s faith and teaching can change, they boldly pound the table insisting that they cannot change! So wherein is their strategy? It is right there in the 2nd Vatican Council. Did not the Council say that those who have no explicit knowledge of God (i.e. atheists) can be saved? It certainly did say so. Paragraph 16 of Lumen Gentium reads, “Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life”. The Traditionalists urge that this contradicts the former doctrine – “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6), and thus concluding that atheists, who don’t believe in God, cannot be saved. The nouveaux théologiens would fix this apparent discontinuity by positing an “implicit faith” even in the interior life of the one who doesn’t believe in God via some motion in conscience, etc,etc. How you like that? I will cite from one Vatican II Bishop and Theologian, Dom Christopher Butler, who wrote the following in his “Church and Unity”:
“I therefore hold, with the Second Vatican Council, that Augustine’s position should be ‘developed’ to take account of the distinction between objective and subjective moral evil. The development preserves everything that is essential to Augustine’s ecclesiology. And it makes that ecclesiology credible in an age like our own when we are acutely aware that people can be at odds about matters of supreme importance (e.g. the existence of God) and yet be perfectly in good faith” (Pg. 6)
Or how about the former doctrine that the one who rejects the command to be joined to the Catholic Church cannot be saved? The 2nd Vatican Council urged that even Protestants, Orthodox, and members of all other religions, while they may reject the command to be baptized and join the Catholic Church, can merely be inculpable and invincibly ignorant of good reason to do so. Voila! They may be anonymous Catholics already, without even knowing it (c.f. Rahner)! It is true that even prior to the 2nd Vatican Council, Popes such as Pius IX (1863) had already written about the “possibility” of someone outside the boundaries of the Church being saved. In his encyclical Quanto Conficiamur, he writes:
“There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace.” (7)
Roots, therefore, of what Vatican 2 would emphasize on the the possibility of non-Catholics to be saved are already there nearly a century before the convening of the Council in the 1960’s. One could make a case that this opening up of exceptions has precedent in the history of the Church by expanding on the notion of “desire”, for which the Council of Trent said sufficed for Catechumens who died before reaching the physical font of Baptism, as well as those who die before able to receive absolution in the confessional. Why couldn’t this “desire” exception apply to those who may obtain it without knowledge of the explicit content of divine revelation in light of their absolute inability to be confronted with it? Hence, the development of the notion of an “implicit” desire which may serve to be the equivalent to the “explicit” desire had by Catechumens who die before officially becoming a member of the Church in Baptism, but who are nevertheless said to be able to achieve eternal redemption through their interior disposition. One could even argue that St. Paul himself, in his public address in the Areopagus of Athens to the Gentiles (Acts 17), implies the possibility of salvation by persons who were, at the very least, outside the realm of Old Testament divine revelation. St. Luke records Paul saying:
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (v26-27)
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (v 30-31)
Here, Paul tells us that God was seeking mankind in every sector of the globe, so that man might “grope for Him and find Him”. Well, seeing as how Paul would have obviously known that the human race was largely outside the sphere of the revelation he gave to Abraham and the Israelites, one could argue that there is here an implication of some “way known to God” as to how pagans would have been able to find salvation through groping and finding God. Popes such as Pius IX merely codified this in terms of their search for God and following the dictates of conscience by the power of divine grace. Paul also seems to be even supporting the idea that “ignorance” , of the invincible form, would be mercifully excused, but that once divine revelation makes its way to the knowledge of the human person, they are obligated to believe and obey the summons of the Gospel. And this last part here is key. For when Paul faced people who disbelieved his message, and rejected it, Paul understood that this was an extremely dangerous position to be in. For example, when the summons to obey the Gospel were rejected by Paul’s own fellow Jewish kinsman in the synagogue, this was the conclusion that he reached:
“It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you [Israel] first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
In other words, Paul did not consider the vast array of possibilities that exists between the objective and the subjective, such that he claimed a certain agnosticism about the fate of those who disbelieved the Gospel. However, this is what we see today by many Catholic Christians who are spiritual children of the 2nd Vatican Council. For Paul, this is how the process worked :
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
“when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, [he will be] taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-9)
With such strong words, it would be difficult to image Paul speaking with an agnostic spirit about those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus, as if there are good chances for them to be saved. In fact, the implications he gives are for the opposite. Thus, while there is some precedent in Scripture and in the Papal decrees prior to the Vatican Council, one has to wonder if there is enough precedent to develop the “possibility” of salvation outside the Catholic Church, as Dr. Ralph Martin says, and morph this into a “probability” with which we can almost presume as a given.
Returning to the Vatican Council, how about the fact that since Orientale Ecclesiarium, all families of the Eastern Churches separated from Rome are freely allowed to receive communion in Catholic parishes? The current code of Canon Law (844) says they only need to be properly disposed (having confessed their sins), which is the same requirement for all fully Catholic members. Now, grant it, we are told there is a massive history of inter-communion prior to the Councils between the Catholics and the Eastern churches, but mostly it was due to severe circumstances. Today, we have something far different and explicit than that. With all that said, I am not here knocking hard on the East. In fact, by my pointing this out, I vindicate the East which had kept to the primitive traditions when it comes to who is worthy to receive communion in their communities.
How much more development of pushing the distance between the objective versus the subjective was needed before someone came along and posited that while two persons who live in sexual immorality outside of marriage refuse to cease from contravening the will of God, they are merely interiorly inculpable through mitigating circumstances , and can be deemed worthy of holy communion? How much more development is needed before we have another saying that while persons in same-sex relationships refuse to cease from it, they may have, otherwise, gifts of grace to offer the Church , and even be prepared to receive communion in light of mitigating circumstances to conscience and personal culpability? My friends, none who have been urging the Church to reform in her pastoral discipline have required the need to change dogma. They keep re-affirming dogma, but dwell in the realm of the subjective, where things are elastic enough such that, with enough “discernment”, it can “no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin” (Amoris Laetitia, 301). Further, “A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values‘, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin” (301). Did you read that? There is no need to deny dogmatic tradition, or its meaning. Rather, peer into the subjective realm of personality, and there is wide enough space to fit almost anything. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, head of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, said the following in a 2014 interview when asked about homosexual couples:
“If I meet a homosexual couple, I notice immediately that their relationship is illicit: the doctrine says this, which I reaffirm with absolute certainty. However, if I stop at the doctrine, I don’t look anymore at the persons. But if I see that the two persons truly love each other, do acts of charity to those in need, for example … then I can also say that, although the relationship remains illicit, positive elements also emerge in the two persons. Instead of closing our eyes to such positive realities, I emphasize them. It is to be objective and objectively recognize the positive of a certain relationship, of itself illicit”
Did you catch that? Even within a situation such as a couple living in this sort of homosexual activity, with which Paul condemned in the strongest of language as deserving of death (Rom 1:26-32), we have here a staunch defender of Amoris Laetitia, such as Coccopalmerio, speculating on the “positive elements” of grace in said form of relationship, all the while making sure to his listeners that doctrine on marriage has not changed!
This “paradigm shift” can be seen also in Cardinal Cupich’s lecture at he Von Hügel institute, already mentioned above, when in that very lecture he says:
“In other words, doctrinal development is about remaining open to the invitation to see our moral teachings on marriage and family life through the lens of God’s omnipotent mercy.”
“He [Pope Francis] also admits the possibility of God’s grace working in those involved in second marriages. ‘…it can on longer simply be said that all those in any irregular situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace’ (AL 301). In all these ways, Pope Francis reminds us that the family is such a privileged place for God’s self-revelation that nothing can stand in the way of God’s grace. The presupposition must always be that whenever there is a family striving to live together and to love one another, the Spirit is already present. The task of those who minister to families, then, is to open their eyes to see, and to help families discern where God is calling them. All of this represents an enormous change of approach, a paradigm shift holistically rooted in Scripture, tradition and human experience”.
“The mutual respect in discerning the movement of the Spirit in the process of accompaniment opens up a third shift, that provides a more complete way of understanding the role of conscience. Rather than limiting the function of conscience to knowing moral truth about actions in the past and objective truth in the present, conscience also discerns the future, asking: What is God asking of me now? This is how Pope Francis explains it: ‘Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal . In any event, let us recall this discernment in dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized’ (AL 303)”.
Continuing on this idea of the complexity of conscience, Cupich continues:
“Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance of the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience – the voice of God – of if I may be permitted to quote an Oxford man here at Cambridge, what Newman called ‘aboriginal vicar of Christ’ – could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person to ‘new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized‘”.
Did you catch that? Cupich, taking from Pope Francis, is here urging that a particular person, or couple in an “irregular union“, can both be aware that their life does not correspond to the overall demands of the Gospel but nevertheless still be fulfilling all that God is asking of them at that moment, and thus living in the state of grace onward towards salvation. See my article in response to Cupich his interpretation of “conscience” in Newman (here).
There should not, therefore, be any surprise that Cupich is on the record admitting the possibility of homosexual couples who are active in their homosexuality to receive holy communion. When speaking in an interview to reporters at the Vatican, Ed Pentin records Cupich making the following statements when asked about giving sacraments to homosexual couples:
“Conscience is inviolable…and we have to respect that when making decisions, and I’ve always done that..Gay people are human beings, too; they have a conscience, and my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church…at the same time..through a period of discernment, to understand what God is calling them to at that point, so it’s for everybody.”
Do you see the same strand of thought come up? He will “help them to discern what the will of God…at that point” in their lives. Furthermore, in an interview with WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, host Phil Ponce asked Cupich whether it is his policy as the Archbishop of Chicago to deny communion or ecclesiastical funeral rites to homosexual couples. Cupich responds saying:
“Well, we have been asked about that already and we responded that that is not our policy and we, as a matter of practice, don’t comment on the policies of other dioceses”
Another example of this paradigm shift is seen in a 2015 press conference where Cardinal Christoph Schönborn told reporters that there could be no clear “yes or no” to the question of communion for divorced and re-married couples. Again, echoing the same ling of thought as Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich above. “There is no black and white, a simple Yes or No”, since complex situations of particular peoples vary. Very well. Moreover, in an interview with Civiltà Cattolica in 2015, as reported by Voice of the Family, Schönborn is found making more explosive statements….He says one homosexual friend was no longer promiscuous now that he was involved in a stable and monogamous relationship.
“In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, advocated the recognition and promotion of ‘stable homosexual relationships’ because that would be better for the persons involved than the alternative, the well-known promiscuous gay lifestyle. Besides, in these ‘monogamous’ arrangements, there is ‘sharing of life, joys, and sufferings, … one helps one another,’ in short, the persons concerned ‘would make an important step for [their] own good and for the good of others’.”
Did you catch that? A stable, rather than promiscuous, homosexual relationship is a step in the right direction for the good of the partners and of others. Apparently, it is not merely a more extreme habit of mortal sin versus a less extreme. No, rather, the transition is from bad to good, or perhaps less good to more good. Who knows?
Another point of interest is the resignation of Fr. Gerhard Swierzek, pastor of a parish in Vienna, who resigned after Schönborn overruled his decision to exclude an active homosexual from the parish council. Schönborn permitted this man who was openly in a homosexual relationship to retain his position on the parish council. On this event, an Italian politician and philosopher, Rocco Buttiglione, a staunch defender of Amoris Laetitia and a member of the Pontifcial Academy for Social Sciences, has stated:
“I defend the cardinal’s decision and I say that it seems to me that it is an intelligent pastoral reading of the Church’s position toward homosexuals and homosexuality…If the cardinal would say that homosexuality is not a serious moral disorder, he would be mistaken. But he doesn’t say that…According to the Catholic doctrine, homosexuality is a serious moral disorder … I don’t think Cardinal Schönborn denies this truth…He just says that the homosexual is a faithful sinner, one who struggles for the faith and who needs support, with friendly and discrete dialogue, in this fight. He can’t be admitted to the sacraments, but he needs to be invited to participate in the religious functions and in the parish life”
At the very least, Buttiglione admits that no access to the sacraments are to be granted to said actively gay person, but he still speaks of a “faithfulness” in said person, and that they need help and support, etc,etc. All good and well; but on a parish council? Not only is this still a position of influence in the leadership of the parish, but the openly immoral person is allowed to be in good-standing in the midst of the congregation! Not only should this person be removed from the council, but they should be excommunicated from the Church until they repent and conform their lives to the law of Christ. Is such a pastoral plan so far afield the wisdom of the Holy Spirit? I sure hope not, since He inspired the Apostle Paul to command the leadership of the Corinthian church to publicly excommunicate and deliver over to Satan an openly fornicating man who was thought to be welcome in their gatherings (1 Cor 5:1-13). Surely, either Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or Schönborn was. It cannot be both. I hope the answer is clear.
All throughout this process, there is no need to say that doctrinal content needs to change, but rather this “paradigm shift” exists on the plane of pastoral discipline. Now, that does not mean that doctrine is not affected! As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “If you don’t behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave”. In other words, the bifurcation between pastoral practice and doctrinal content is damaged by the “paradigm shift” since it can lead, as St. Jude so aptly put, ministers of the gospel turning “the grace of our God into lewdness [a license to sin] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v4). Is that not the ultimate consequence? Here we have Cardinals, taking from the Pope of the Catholic Church, admitting that people can be so variant from the basic demands of repentance in the Gospel (i.e. sexual purity), and yet still be walking in the grace of God. Of course they would deny this and assert that they still believe the “ideal” is a fully repentant life, but that, due to complex circumstances and individual inculpability, a believer in Christ can be omitted from having to conform his life to the Law of God as an indispensable requirement for their salvation. That, my friends, is where the evil of this paradigm shift lay. Our conservative theologians have not been able to refute it on the terms of dogmatic formulation, since the defenders of the new paradigm don’t hold that doctrine can change. The best I can come up with a word on this is that this paradigm shift is in danger of being a camouflage heresy (i.e. practically leading the lambs of Christ into a lukewarm compromise with living out some of the commands of Christ, while not needing to abide by others). Would any of the Apostles had conceded to this? Any of the Church Fathers? Any Christian up until the past 100 years? I think not. I know not.
As I said, there is much elasticity as to what one could permit when we are dangerously playing with souls by envisioning the possibility of such a high variance between the objective contravention of God’s will in someone’s life versus their subjective conscience and mitigating circumstances to culpability. I have even taken the logic so far as to say that this wide divergence between what is objectively true versus what is subjectively complemented, despite the objective irregularity, can lead someone to positing a new discipline of opening the chalice to all people of the world (see my A Proposal For Universalism Based Upon Amoris Laetitia’s Underlying Logic: A Paradigm Shift?). No denial of dogma or its meaning required. To no surprise, even Bishop Robert Barron has explained in a YouTube video how the principles herein are not doctrinally aberrant in principle (to be fair, Barron doesn’t say in this video that people in objective irregular unions should receive communion, even if he spells out how the basic framework that Amoris is working with). In fact, as Pope Francis himself has made clear on more than one occasion, the engine for this sort of Pastoral “Reform” is to be seen in a more faithful application of the spirit of the 2nd Vatican Council. We need to get out heads in the game here, and find out a way to dispel this madness which has been allowed to masquerade in the Catholic Church, otherwise we are looking at a demise in our ability to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Another article will be devoted to looking into just what me a solution for our times. No doubt, the solution is wrapped up in the recent saying of Cardinal Robert Sarah, “Don’t deceive people with the word ‘mercy’. God forgives sins only if we repent of them“. And that is ultimately what this all boils down to. Are we going to stick with the same old Gospel of repentance and conversion, or are we going to negotiate with the enemy on a compromised repentance, or a a negotiated allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ?
Lastly, to say something about Dr. Eduardo Echeverria’s article. As much as I think he accurately describes the older Modernist vs Traditionalist debate, I don’t think Dr. Ed has fully described the mentality of those promoting this “New Paradigm”. Rather, it is a far more complicated process, but no less destructive. However, I have consulted with him since and he has told me that he plans to go into more detail in a future work.
Featured Image from NCRonline